Friday, November 23, 2007

My Story

In thinking of the next topic to write about here, I realized that to date I have not shared my personal story with you. So sit back and relax and I will tell you all about how I came to be a happily childfree woman.

First of all, it is relevant to point out that I have always been an independent thinker and never one to automatically follow the crowd and be a conformist. As a child, I found it more fun to create my own board game than to play a manufactured game. As a teen, I chose not to "party" and was quite scornful of the majority my peers who abused their bodies and brains that way. Needless to say, this resulted in my being something of a loner - not by choice, mind you (because I am very outgoing and sociable person), but because it's hard to make friends when you're taking the opposite path of 95% of your peers and refusing to be a herd-following sheep. At any rate, it has always been more important to me to be true to myself than to be false just so I can fit in.

I've also always been a person who does not like to be "tied down". I never fared well with possessive or controlling men. I've never been a person who can tolerate being stuck in a situation where I am not in control of my own happiness and destiny. I've always seen life as something that I fully create, not something that happens to me.

As for the childfree decision, growing up, I looked at my parents' life and it didn't seem at all appealing to me -in fact, it repulsed me. They were very unhappily married, struggling financially and were overwhelmed with the responsibilities of work and family and trying to make ends meet. They fought over money a lot - in fact money was so tight that my mother frequently came to me to borrow my babysitting money just so she'd have enough money to keep gas in the car. My impression of them was that all they did was work and struggle. When I think back to my parents' days of raising children, I think any objective person would say that it was the least joyful period in their lives.

In addition to having financial troubles, my parents were clearly incompatible and an ill-suited match. It became apparent to me at a young age that had they not had children, they would have most certainly divorced early in their marriage. In fact, my mother told me (on more than one occasion), "If it wasn't for you kids, I would divorce your father". She meant this to be a loving statement - i.e. "I love you kids so much that I will suffer in a marriage that I desperately want out of" but the more salient message came across loud and clear, "you kids are what are standing between me and the life I really want. It is because of you that I am tied down in this miserable existence."

Is this the reason I chose to be childfree? If I had been raised in a happy, well-adjusted family where my parents loved being together and seemed joyful in raising a family would I have looked at the option of parenthood in a positive light? I often wonder about this. There's no doubt my childhood experiences and perceptions were powerful influencers on my thinking, but regardless of my upbringing, I am confident that I would have chosen the same childfree lifestyle. Why? It always comes down to this one fact - people with kids pay a very high price for their lifestyle, and I just don't see that they are any happier than I am. In fact, in most cases they seem less happy. Why would I choose a life that costs substantially more, but in most cases yields less?

When I look at the lives of family, friends, co-workers and acquaintences who have children, I see lives that are full of overwhelming responsibility. I see that (like my parents) they are frequently struggling to make ends meet. I see that they no longer have the time or money to go out to dinner, to travel, to pursue interests in hobbies, to go to school, to schedule outings with friends or even to have meaningful conversations with other adults. Their entire beings are consumed with childrearing and their lives appear to me to be 99% work and 1% fun. I sense that their marriages aren't passionate anymore with little quality time left for their spouses after all the childrearing chores are done. I see their involvement in the community and interest in world events has dissipated. They look tired and worn down. They look old for their ages. They look spent. While there is no doubt their children bring them joy, in my estimation the cost for that joy is so excessive, it just isn't worth it.

Of course, people with children will respond, "yes, of course it is worth it!" and maybe for them that is true. For me, though, having kids would most definitely not be worth losing (or even compromising) all those very important things. Perhaps my marriage, my friendships, my hobbies and interests, my educational pursuits, my interest in the world, my passion, my enjoyment of adult conversation, my love of travel, my need for personal space, and my health and fitness hold more importance to me than they do to other people. Maybe other people don't need those things to be happy. I do. When it's all said and done, if I want the benefits of kids in my life, I can easily get them from my nieces, nephews and friends' kids with almost no cost to my happiness.

Lucky for me, I met my soul mate at age 26 and even luckier for me, he is a person who shares my perspective in all the important areas of life, including the choice to be free of the burdens of childrearing. I count my lucky stars every day because I realize the miracle of an independent-thinking freespirit like myself finding any man I'd want to commit to for life, let alone a guy who knows that a very happy and fulfilling life can be created free of children.

How about you? Care to share your story? Please comment...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kids' Impact on a Marriage - Right from the Mothers' Mouths

On a discussion board for women that I frequent (not related to the childfree issue), someone posted a poll. The question was "Are you happy in your marriage?" In addition to voting in the poll, some women posted comments too. Here are a few that I thought would be interesting to post here.

"We're in the empty nest phase and our marriage has become better than before, life is easier now... so much less complex.... compared to when we were raising children. Having young children was the hardest time. "

"I don't miss being single, though with an 11-month old, I do sometimes miss not being a mom! I love my baby, but arranging childcare is such a pain."

"Although I am happy in my marriage, it's not perfect. Most of our problems and stresses come from our three little kids. I love them with all my heart, but having small kids puts a lot of strain on a marriage, IMO. I think the only thing that keeps us from being blissfully happy together is having such minimal amount of time because of work and kids to do things together that we would like to do. My DH is a great husband, but it's been stressful on us lately with life being so hectic."


If you'd like to read more from regretful parents, click here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"You Just Make it Work"

Several times over the course of my childfree life, when listening to parents vent about how exhausted they are, how broke they are, how they are fighting with their spouse all the time and how their kids drive them crazy, I have been interested to see that I almost always get a the same response from them when I make this comment:

Me: "Man, I just don't know how you do it. The work, the expense, the lack of sleep, devoting your whole life to another person and giving up so much of your own life."

Parent: "I used to think the same thing. But somehow you just make it work."

So what is the parent really trying to convey? This is what I think they want me to believe:

"I used to be naive like you and think that having kids was so difficult, but the fact is, they are so rewarding that you will do anything in order to have them. All the stress and burden doesn't bother me a lick. It's so worth it!"

But if you scratch the surface, this is what I believe is really underneath:

"Yes, it's a hell-hole of a life for sure, but kids aren't returnable. I made my bed so I have to lie in it and I am dealing with that trauma the best I can. So I better convince myself (and everyone else) that I am making it work and that I can get through it and that it's all worth it. And while I am at it, misery loves company so I will try to convince you to undertake this lifestyle too!"

The fact is, whenever a parent says, "you just make it work" I sincerely have to scratch my head. Of course you just make it work! What choice do you have? I guess you could commit suicide, but otherwise you're stuck with it, right? If I had a child, I would make it work too. I'd have to. We'd probably have to sell the house and move someplace more affordable (to allow for all the extra expense of a child), I'd quit school (since pursuing a graduate degree is probably unrealistic for the mother of a small child). I'd cancel our upcoming vacation (since it doesn't seem practical to lug an infant to Tulum, Mexico and make it sleep in a tent on the beach). I'd probably stop exercising in the mornings (since mornings would be taken up with baby care, plus I'd probably have to turn the workout room into a nursery). The list goes on and on.

The point is, just because you can make a particular lifestyle work doesn't mean that lifestyle is one you should choose. It also doesn't mean that lifestyle is the optimal one for you and everyone else, and the one that will be the most fulfilling and enjoyable above all other lifestyles.

I didn't choose to parent. I also didn't choose to be a doctor, work for the Peace Corps, run for office, live in a city, own an SUV, write a book, or have a parrot as a pet, although I am sure these are considered excellent choices by many people.

What I did choose is to live a life that values freedom - freedom to create, to express, to explore, to love, to discover, to learn, to converse, to try new things, to think, to endeavor, to grow, to socialize, to rest, to aspire, to indulge, to dream, to introspect, to expand.

I have no doubt that I'd sacrifice most, if not all, of these freedoms to have kids and "make it work".

Friday, November 2, 2007

"That's Just What You Did"

Not long ago I was on television talking about being childfree. It happened last minute when someone I work with (who schedules these quicky human interest "news" stories all the time) begged me because they were doing a spot on married couples who choose not to have kids and they needed one of those ever-so-difficult-to-locate childfree types. Despite the fact that I looked like hell that day, was wearing unflattering colors and was completely and totally unprepared and caught off guard, I reluctantly agreed to do the spot, convincing myself of the importance of being an advocate for the severely-marginalized childfree lifestyle. Although I cringed to see how horrible I looked, I admit it turned out pretty well in the end (I was relieved that they used the 2 articulate sentences from my interview with them).

Anyway, a week or so later, I decided to go out for a couple slices of pizza at my favorite pizza place across the street from my office. I have pizza there at least once every couple weeks - it's gooooooood ~ heavy on the cheese and grease. Immediately, the owner came running over and excitedly asked (in her adorable Greek accent), "are you on television?!!???" Now, I get this question a lot because I happen to look like a pretty well-known celebrity, and I had forgotten about the childfree "news" spot so I was all ready to give her my usual reply that "no, I know I look like so-and-so, but I am not her. I wish I had her money, though." But then, I realized she was talking about the childfree spot.

She had this star-struck look on her face, as though by nature of my being on this low-budget local news spot, I was some kind of celebrity (which made me chuckle to myself) and she inquisitively began asking me questions about choosing not to have kids. After I explained how hubby and I came about our decision and why we love the childfree lifestyle, she nodded approvingly and then said a line that I have often heard from people with kids, "I never even considered not having kids because when I got married, that's just what you did."

That's just what you did - implying that things are somehow different now - that things have changed since the era when she had kids and when I became of child-rearing age. Well, people, let me state with no uncertainty that nothing has changed. Having kids is still just what you do. It's always been just what you do. It will probably always continue to be just what you do. As has been the case throughout humankind's history on earth, people put as much thought into having kids as they do into mindless eating, breathing and screwing.

Just like my friend at the pizza parlor, I was brought up with the relentless messages that having children is what you do. It's part of life and an essential part of life for women especially. It's not a choice, it's a given. Women are never asked if they will have kids - they are asked when they will have kids and a woman who bravely announces she does not want to have children is looked at like she has two heads.

Growing up, I didn't know one single adult who chose not to have kids. Baby dolls were thrust into my hands repeatedly as gifts, despite the fact that I showed no interest in them (although I loved Barbie and her freespirited adult ways). The only words I ever heard associated with not having kids were words like "infertile", "barren", "sterile" and other negative labels that implied that not having kids was some kind of affliction. I never had a childfree role model. Hell, the word childfree was never even used to describe people without children, at least not in the plastic bubble I lived in, although I have recently learned that the term was coined in the early 1970s. No, like most people, childless was the only word I heard to refer to people without kids; a term pregnant with the connotation of lack.

People like my pizza place friend who lament their "choice" to have kids was made because it's just what you did - are unknowingly robbing childfree folks of the credit we deserve. The pressure we have endured to have children has been just as enormous for us as it was for her. The role models of an alternative childfree lifestyle have been non-existent, just as they were for her. The message of having kids is just what you do has been pounded into our heads our entire lives, just as it was for her.

The difference is that despite the fact that having kids is just what you do, we thought about it and did differently anyway. And for this we deserve some credit. Credit for bucking the trend and thinking for ourselves (despite the inevitable fallout of being misunderstood and labeled as misguided and selfish). Credit for questioning the unthinking belief that something is right and preferable just because it is ordinary and customary. Credit for evaluating childrearing with an objective eye and seeing it for what it is - a little bit of something for a whole lot of strain and sacrifice.

So to those who say we are lucky today because of the choice we have now, I say to you - the choice was always there. You just chose not to think, and not to choose.